The Protein Question!

One question that often comes up when talking with people about eating a plant-based diet is, “how do you get enough protein?”   It’s a good question because, as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine writes in it’s article entitled, The Protein Myth,  “protein is an important nutrient required for the building, maintenance, and repair of tissues in the body.  Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, can be synthesized by the body or ingested from food.  The nine essential amino acids, which cannot be produced by the body, must be obtained from the diet.  A variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables can provide all of the essential amino acids our bodies require.”

They further state that, “It was once thought that various plant foods had to be eaten together to get their full protein value, otherwise known as protein combining, but we now know that intentional combining is not necessary to obtain all the essential amino acids.  As long as the diet contains a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables, protein needs are easily met.”

In an article by Grant Butler entitled, Vegans and Protein:  It’s Simpler than you Think, he writes….”the reality is that most Americans get plenty of protein.  In fact, the latest federal survey shows that both men and women commonly consume more protein than they need – sometimes by one-third or more.  Overconsumption isn’t the most efficient way of fueling your body, and it may even have some ill effects (large doses of protein aren’t easy on the kidneys, and may be a factor in the development of osteoporosis.”)  See Health Information page to learn about how too much protein, specifically from animal products, can cause health problems.

Grant writes, “so how much protein does a person need?  According to federal guidelines, a moderately active 150-lb. person needs about 54 grams of protein a day.  It’s not difficult to consume that much protein with a diet that includes things like nuts, soy and beans.  A half-cup of cooked black beans, for example, has 8 grams of protein.”

To measure how much protein you need, take your body weight and multiply it by .36.  You’ll get the number of grams of protein needed daily.  A 130-pound woman would need about 47 grams of protein a day.  That is easy to get if you consume some plant protein with meals and snacks throughout the day.

Here’s a short list of healthy protein sources to give you an idea how easy it is to get what you need.  The amount is listed in grams:

  • Black beans, (1 cup)                           15.2
  • Broccoli (1 cup)                                     4.6
  • Bulgur, cooked (1 cup)                        5.6
  • Chickpeas (1 cup)                                14.5
  • Lentils (1 cup)                                      17.9
  • Peanut butter (2 tbsp)                        8.0
  • Quinoa, cooked (1 cup)                    11.0
  • Seitan (4 oz)                                         24.0
  • Spinach, boiled (1 cup)                      5.4
  • Tempeh (1/2 cup)                              15.7
  • Tofu (1/2 cup)                                     19.9
  • Whole wheat bread (1 slice)            2.7
  • Adzuki beans (1 cup)                       17.0
  • Basmanti rice (1/2 cup)                    5.0
  • Walnuts/almonds (3/4 cup)         15.0
  • Edamame ( 1 cup)                              26.0
  • Buckwheat (1 cup)                             23.0
  • Frozen, cooked broccoli (1 cup)    6.0

You can see that many plant-based foods have a good amount of protein, and the bonus is….the protein is easily assimilated by the body, unlike the protein of animal products which is high in saturated fat.

Want to know how much protein (or sodium, fiber, fat) is in an avocado, or a sweet potato?  Here’s a very helpful website:  Self-Nutrition Data, Know What You Eat.  This website allows you to enter a food item in the search box to find out the nutritional data on it.

In summary, there is no need to worry about getting enough protein on a plant-based diet, as long as you are eating a good variety of whole, natural foods.  The problems arise when we depend too heavily on only a few food items, or if we are eating a lot of processed, high-carb, high-sugar foods.

We enjoyed a wonderful meal tonight, thanks to my nephew, Nathan, who planned and cooked it!  It is a Cuban Black Bean dish that he put together after tasting something similar at The Laughing Planet.  Check it out on the Recipe page, and give your taste buds a thrill.   It has plenty of good, healthy protein.  Your body will thank you!


7 comments on “The Protein Question!

  1. Wow, this post is so full of good information… I know I was worried at first about being able to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. But it’s been over a month now, and I took a count using my food-diary and realized that (without trying) I have been getting around 50-60 grams of nutritious, easily digested protein every day without eating a single serving of meat or dairy. How amazing!

  2. Hi Kate,
    Thanks so much of all the great information. I’m glad to hear that Richard’s doing so well on a vegan diet too. Pretty interesting stuff.

  3. Thanks for an informative article. People who go on a high protein diet to lose weight always complain about constipation, which is why I believe too much can be detrimental to your health, especially from non-plant based sources. Your suggestions are not only good sources but tasty treats that can fit into so many different recipes.

    • Thanks, Maryanne! My husband, who has suffered from constipation for many years, now touts the benefits of relief from constipation from plant-based eating. Just today, after about 8 months of being vegan, he received the best health check-up he’s had in years! His doctor is amazed at the positive changes!

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